Book Review: Havana Lost by Libby Fischer Hellmann

Havana LostHavana Lost
Libby Fischer Hellmann
The Red Herrings Press, August 2013
ISBN: 978-1-938733-38-3
Trade Paperback

Author Libby Hellmann, with a number of Chicagoland detective mysteries to her credit, has moved in a new direction. This novel continues that move, beginning with the excellent Set The Night on Fire,  continuing with A Bitter Veil, and now this novel. Here we have a love story set against the turbulent and dangerous background of the Cuban Revolution. The story of two lovers from wildly different circumstances form the catalyst that drives this story.

Hellmann’s skills as a writer have continued to improve and her talent is most obvious when she deals with the principal characters, Luis the revolutionary, follower of Fidel Castro and his inamorata, Francesca Pacelli. She’s the teen-aged daughter of Tony, the American manager of a luxury casino and night-club. Pacelli is a confidant of Meyer Lansky, among others in the nightlife enterprises of Havana in the late 1950’s. Hellmann has created a vibrant, colorful Cuba of the 1950’s on the brink of a revolution as Castro’s oppressive and revolutionary force move to take over the island nation.

The evolution of Francesca Pacelli from a headstrong hormonal teenager in exotic Cuba to a steely, self-assured Chicago matron, head of a far-flung business enterprise, is fascinating and very well handled. One can argue that the Angola device (you’ll have to read the novel for explanation) carries the principals far afield and is something of a distraction. Never mind. The central story is compelling and what gives this novel its fire and its depth of feeling, is the character movement. Consistent, logical, rising out of circumstances, Luis Perez and Frankie Pacelli set in motion both life-affirming and tragic, nearly inevitable violent confrontations set against the wider forces of the times.

The scope and sweep of this novel is spectacular, beginning in the 1950s and terminating in today’s difficult circumstances, from Cuba to Africa to Chicago. But over and over, Hellmann effectively brings the focus down to the individuals important to this narrative. Truly, a novel to be savored.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, October 2013.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.